WHEATFIELD | When Bob and Alva Gabrielse first learned from a friend about hand-powered carts that can give the gift of mobility to those in developing countries who have lost the use of their legs, they knew they wanted to be a part of that.
"My husband and I have done lots of service work in lots of countries. We have a rural community here with lots of hands-on skills. My husband thought this community can handle this," Alva Gabrielse said.
In May 2011, the couple incorporated a nonprofit and began production in February 2012 in leased space in DeMotte.
On Sunday, PET Ministries will host an open house to celebrate its new, 7,200-square-foot facility across from the Kankakee Valley Intermediate School in Wheatfield.
The afternoon will afford the public the chance to see the Personal Energy Transportation (PET) vehicles and how they are made.
Alva Gabrielse said of recipients, "The carts are life-changing for them." Some cultures believe those injured from landmines, accidents and wars are cursed, she said.
Since Dec. 18, when they moved to the new facility, five PETs a week have been produced, although the new facility has enough space to handle double that, she said.
Using the nonprofits 45-member pool of volunteer labor, each PET costs $250 to manufacture, so the couple hopes to establish a continuous revenue stream for funding.
Bob Gabrielse is in private practice as a lawyer, so he has the flexibility to spend time at the facility as needed, his wife said.
"The funny part is that most of our volunteers are retired people with so many skills.They are so excited to have something to do. It's a no-brainer," Alva Gabrielse said. "They are all people who are caring. Our breakroom is as important as our workroom," she said of their workplace "family."
While there are no regular hours set for the facility to be open, each of the skilled volunteer teams works in concert with the others to guarantee five finished PETs at week's end.
The welders know five frames must be readied. There are woodworking teams, painting teams, teams for assembly and those for packing, she said.
Each vehicle is made from 1-inch-by-6-inch lumber; steel angle, box, flat, and rod iron; miscellaneous hardware; and lots of paint.
Jon Huisman, a spokesperson for the Wheatfield PET facility, said thousands in more than 100 countries have received the PETs that have changed their lives from "groveling in the dust to meaningful lives where transportation is necessary."
Alva Gabrielse said her husband's faith in the Northwest Indiana community has been rewarded.
"It's amazing how people have stepped up," she said. "We have a waiting list of volunteers."
One fun aspect has been taking the PETs to different schools, Alva Gabrielse said. Highland Christan School raised enough money to make 15 vehicles, she said.
The facility is already 90 percent paid for, Huisman said, through gifts from local businesses, churches and individuals.
PET Ministries of DeMotte/Wheatfield is one of 23 affiliates across the United States that build the vehicles for distribution through such agencies as World Vision, Fame and Mercy Ships, Huisman said.